On Broadway’s world-renowned stages, half the women happen to be men, and the tourists like it that way just fine, thank you. The city’s illustrious theaters have long been the destination for high-kicking Cagelles, wrist flapping Priscilla boarders, and all sorts of other cross dressing delights who strap on their kinky boots and dance up a storm of box office glitter.
And that’s not the end of this titillating trend. I hear that Wigstock—the flamboyant outdoor drag festival that rocked NYC from 1984 to 2005—could become fodder for a glitzy stage adaptation. Barry Shils, who directed the 1995 Wigstock documentary, has sent a wish list to the event’s creators, Lady Bunny (Jon Marc Ingle) and Scott Lifshutz, in an attempt to turn the femmy fest of performance and pageantry into a Broadway-style genderpalooza. I’m jonesing just thinking about the Bunny throughline, the eyeball-spinning outfits, the potential guest stars, and all the love and (hair) peace the show could re-titillate Times Square with.
It’s all very early stages right now and might never end up happening any more than Bianca Del Rio winning the Nobel Peace Prize. But if it does work out, this would be a great way to bring back the history of the festival that thousands made into an al fresco ritual while introducing it to those in need of some freshly waxed legs in their face.
Meanwhile, you can get a way more immediate dose of Lady Bunny. She’s returned to NYC’s La Escuelita nightclub, the site of some of her former triumphs (and not just in the bathroom). On four more Tuesdays starting tomorrow (May 6), the Lady is performing a show called Clowns Syndrome, which reflects a newfound maturity,“so the fart jokes have graduated to shart jokes.” It would be a crime to miss this thing. And her show too.
WHO WILL BE THE NEXT HEDWIG?
As for more serious leadership issues: I assumed the Tony nominees meet-and-greet at the Paramount last Wednesday would be a chance to hobnob with huge names like Denzel Washington, Daniel Radcliffe, James Franco,Zach Quinto, Sir Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Zach Braff,Michelle Williams, Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Fantasia. But none of them were nominated! The committee stuck to their guns and went for their vision of quality rather than star power, and I guess you have to admire them for not pandering, even if it made my meet-and-greet a tiny bit less electrifying. And they certainly didn’t snub anything LGBT. In fact, no fewer than seven of the nominated performances involved some form of drag or trans (thanks to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Twelfth Night, Casa Valentina, andA Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder). Maybe Denzel, Daniel, James, etc. should have tried it. In fact, they should lock down parts in the Wigstock show and they’ll have a better chance next year.
At the event, Gentleman’s Guide’s nominated Bryce Pinkham joked to me that because of all the drag stuff taking over Broadway, maybe they should change it to the Tony and Tina Awards.
In another corner, I zanily asked Beautiful’s non-drag star Jessie Mueller—who playsTapestry singer Carole King—“Is your show just for heterosexuals or everybody?” “Everybody!” she replied, wisely. So is Harvey Fierstein’s play Casa Valentina, though nominated costumer Rita Ryack had to take some specialized care in dressing the actors up as straight 1960s cross dressers. “They’re definitely not drag queens,” she told me. “They’re more trying to pass. More everyday club women—secretaries—and they’re really guys.” I wondered how these everyday Joannes kept all their large-sized fashion choices from their wives. “The wives knew!” said Ryack. How fabulous—and they no doubt borrowed too!
Moving on to neon-splattered denim, I challengedHedwig authors John Cameron Mitchell andStephen Trask for their thoughts on the dragging up of Broadway. “We’ve become Britified,” said Mitchell. “Nine out of 10 performances in London are in drag—intentionally or not.”
So it’s great timing for Hedwig to have hit the big stage, though Mitchell said such a turn of events was a mere pipe dream back when they wrote the show (and Mitchell played the part) in the ‘90s, “because of fear of trans and fear of rock and roll.” “And the two together!” said Trask. “The two together are Broadway death,” said Mitchell, laughing. “Trans and queer rights have gotten so much better,” added Trask. “It’s exploded a bit. There are teens who know they’re trans and their parents are OK with it.”
But it’s important not to hold this show up as any kind of a righteous banner, they reminded me. As Mitchell remarked, “Hedwig doesn’t speak for any community. She doesn’t speak for trans. She was mutilated. There’s no choice involved. He was fine in his gender before. Whatever Hedwig is, it’s a gender of one. She’s in her own category.”
And the show itself is in categories like Best Actor for the protean Neil Patrick Harris, who’s such a draw he doesn’t even have an understudy. “People would just get the refund,” said Mitchell. “And he’s incredibly strong. He’s more hale and hearty than I ever was.”
But of course even NPH won’t last forever. Both authors asked me who could be a possible replacement for Harris when the time comes. I said it’s too bad Alan Cumming is busy with Cabaret or he’d be perfect, though I also suggested Justin Vivian Bond and Michael Urie. “Would Billy Porter be good?” asked Trask, and I thought, “Yes! And he’s already got the outfits.”
Ruthie Ann Miles (center) and the cast of 'Here Lies Love' | Photo by Joan Marcus
DON’T CRY FOR HER, QUEZON CITY
Except for revivals, the Broadway musical season has been rather meh, so it’s great to have the off-Broadway sparkler Here Lies Love back at the Public Theater to show how it’s done. With concept and lyrics by David Byrne and music by Byrne and Fatboy Slim, the immersive, mostly-sung-through musical tells the story of Imelda Marcos—who was the First Lady of the Philippines and basically a big drag queen--through disco, hip-hop, flash, satire, and whirring helicopters. Most of the audience stands and moves around, also joining in on group dance numbers and handclapping routines on command. I leaned a lot and refused to dance, not just because I’m lazy, but because I was so entranced by what was going on around me—a whirl of great casting, costumes, choreography, and direction that made magical use of the space as action floated from stages to platforms and seamlessly back again. After seeing Here Lies Love, it’s going to be hard to sit my ass back down and watch a conventional show again. Well-heeled tyranny has rarely been this much fun. (And no, there isn’t a number about shoes. This show doesn’t go for the obvious, to the horror of some camp queens. Like me.)
On Broadway, I caught up with the “What if?” musical If/Then and thought, “What if I were seeing Rent instead?” After all, that one had the same director (Michael Greif), plus Idina Menzel, Anthony Rapp (as a gay), and an interracial lesbian couple fighting over flirting issues. But this one is way different. This is a musical about fate versus choice and the differences those two phenomena can make in your future. The show is a mixed bag, but at least it’s original and Idina turns in strong, subtle work. I know Idina Jr. (namely Lea Michele) is obsessed with doing Funny Girl, but even better would be to go to the source and let Idina herself do it. Lea would have to just “Let It Go.”
And finally, Idina gets skewered in Gerard Alessandrini’s satirical off-Broadway revue Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging! Mia Gentile hilariously sings “Let It Blow,” satirizing the blow-your-vocal-cords approach that Idina’s brought to generations of future raspers. But the show carves up everyone, albeit with a loving hatchet. Especially side splitting are the sendups of The Bridges of Madison County (a mass of sexual innuendo, excusing adultery because the people involved are attractive) and Once (“We’re so unpretentious we’re now pretentious”), plus the jabs at pompous Mandy Patinkin and world weary but still shrieking Liza Minnelli. EvenHedwig gets a roasting. Like that character, this show is in its own category.